A rugby test against the Wallabies is a day to savour all our dealings with Australia - or almost all. Apples aside and airline favouritism forgotten, the Anzac partnership appears in good shape. This week's meeting of finance ministers produced an agreement for the transfer of retirement savings between the two countries that will be welcomed by New Zealanders who have worked in Australia and paid into a compulsory superannuation fund.

Bill English and his federal counterpart, Wayne Swan, managed also to advance a new tax treaty and make progress on a new protocol for approval of transtasman investments. These and other decisions will be ratified next month at a meeting of the Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and John Key, who are said to get along well despite their different political colours.

In fact, it has been leaders of the same stripe who have made more difficulty for the relationship in the past. Think Sir Robert Muldoon and Malcolm Fraser, David Lange and Bob Hawke. Foreign policy differences brought their personal animus to a head, Commonwealth sanctions against apartheid in the Muldoon-Fraser instance, the nuclear ban for Lange and Hawke.

Foreign policy differences were just as potent for Helen Clark and John Howard, particularly over Iraq but also on refugee issues, and it was a credit to their professionalism that they did not let these sour their dealings.

Mr Rudd and Mr Key are closer in age and temperament and both have centrist leanings from opposite sides of the political fence.

The economy and business of this country are becoming inexorably more entwined with those of Australia, a fate we have had cause to celebrate with the discovery that our major banks, all Australian-owned, did not succumb to the toxic products that poisoned the financial systems of the United States and Europe.

We will have even more cause to celebrate if China, the main buyer of Australian minerals, recovers at a pace that enables our exports' nearest large market to avoid recession.

Less conspicuous than economic integration, the government of the two countries is becoming closer too. Rules and standards of health and safety increasingly are set by joint authorities, as evidenced by the folic acid debate in New Zealand this week.

The requirement on bakers to add folate to bread from September is not, though, the imposition it seemed. Under the terms of joint regulation, New Zealand can opt out of this standard. A health issue for this country is thus unclouded by questions of national sovereignty.

And not least, of course, there is the sporting relationship. In rugby, league, soccer, netball and basketball, New Zealand and Australian teams all now engage in annual competitions below international level. Rugby's Super 14 has done as much for the game in Australia as the Warriors' inclusion in Australia's National Rugby League has done for league here.

Tonight's match at Eden Park is the first of four Bledisloe Cup encounters this year, the last of them a promotional venture in Tokyo like last year's excursion to Hong Kong. Little wonder the All Blacks and the Wallabies these days seem to know each other so well.

Familiarity, of course, will take no sting out of the play tonight. With the All Blacks lacking recent form and the Wallabies drilled by New Zealand's most successful sub-national coach, there is plenty riding on the match.

The rivalry in all respects has a sibling intensity on our side at times. Mock-antagonism can be taken too far. We are fortunate to have a kindred nation so near, so prosperous and so open to us. Now if they would just let in our apples ...